I’ve been asked to think and pray a bit about justice over the next few days, so you may see that theme cropping up here a bit. It’s not hard to find examples of the judicial systems of the ancient world cropping up in Acts, anyway.
Today’s is another in a long line of tales about people who held authority or, perhaps more significantly, power in a city being outraged when Paul and others come in and start talking about a new way of doing things. They rightly understood that if this Jesus was who the apostles said he was, and really did have the power and authority they claimed, an honest response to him would require rethinking all their traditions and practices. A world in which God was God, not all their manmade gods, would look very different from the world they knew and loved.
It seems nothing much has changed in 2000 years, though. The few who really understood what was at stake challenged it through the judicial system, but made sure they whipped up public opinion to be on their side first. Isn’t this verse telling? There was almost a riot, but most of the people had no idea what they were rioting about.
I think the lessons I take from this are:
1) Make sure you know your facts and understand what you’re protesting about, if and when you do, but
2) Don’t assume that your opponents have done the same. The tide of public opinion may be strong, but chances are most people won’t know what they’re protesting about – and as we know from the crucifixion story, a crowd shouting ‘Hosanna!’ one day can be screaming ‘Crucify him!’ the next. The tide of public opinion can shift in a moment, and if it can shift one way, it can shift the other.
Justice means holding to the truth, not being swayed by the crowd.